Cricket’s showpiece Test series has joined the list of legally protected “crown jewel” sporting events, a British newspaper reported.
A review of “crown jewel” events which must be shown live on terrestrial television, led by David Davies, the former Football Association executive, is understood to have recommended that the Ashes be made free to air, The Daily Telegraph reports.
It is expected that the Gordon Brown Government will fully back the recommendation in view of the fact that complaints were lodged about a large television audience unfairly missing out on live coverage this year.
This summer’s England-Australia Test series was shown live only by Sky, whose paid-for sports channel achieved a peak of two million viewers when it broadcast the deciding Test at the Oval, whereas in 2005, viewership peaked at seven million.
A senior Government source said: “It’s a no-brainer. This is one thing we can do that chimes in with the wishes of millions of voters.”
However, the ruling is likely to lead to an outbreak of hostilities with Sky, which acquired the rights to screen the next home Ashes series, in 2013, as part of a 300 million pound deal with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) last year.
Relations between the Government and Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Sky and News International newspapers, are at a low point after the decision by the Sun newspaper to abandon Labour and back David Cameron’s Conservatives following Gordon Brown’s speech to his party’s conference last month.
Sky would be likely to resist fiercely any move to end or water down its exclusive rights to the 2013 Ashes series.
Currently, Sky broadcasts all England Test matches live, with free-to-air channel Five showing highlights.